Holiday ‘Jailhouse Party’ for kids gets high grades from special students

Take a look at the fun party enjoyed by students from the Community Transitional School – put on by a lot of volunteers wearing green …

At the end of a table, Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton enjoys his time with students from Community Transition School at their annual Holiday Party.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Four school busses took kids from the Community Transitional School on a special outing, on the morning of December 19. But, instead of going to the Oregon Zoo or a museum, these students were escorted into the Multnomah County Inverness Jail.

More precisely, children were guided into the large training room outside of the jail dormitories. Perhaps the guests didn’t realize that some of the inmates and staff spent hours decorating the room – but it was indeed dressed out like a magical Christmas wonderland.

The program began with a welcome, and carols sung by the Multnomah County Sheriff Office (MCSO) Command Staff and deputies.

BJ the Clown warms up the kids with wacky antics.

For helping BJ the Clown sing a silly song, this youngster gets a candy-cane hat.

With a minimum of props – and with more than a full measure of entertainment savvy – BJ the Clown soon had the audience, which included high school chaperones and MCSO staff, doubled over in laughter.

Enlisting the aid of many kids from the audience in his routines, BJ’s show “played big”, filling the room with laughter and applause.

With gales of laughter and applause in the background, MCSO Legislative Administrative Assistant Julie Long stepped out into the hallway to talk about the annual event with East Portland News.

Standing amid a mountain of child-specific gifts purchased by employees are MCSO Legislative Administrative Assistant Julie Long and Program Supervisor Elizabeth Daily.

“For the past 25 years, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has provided a day of fun and food for the Community Transitional School students,” Long reminded. “These children are homeless, or are going through major transitions in their life.  This is the way to provide them with some fun for Christmas.”

And, not a penny of taxpayer dollars supports the party, she said.  “Each employee personally donates their time and money for the gifts.  And, many sponsors help us out. A bunch of people knitted hats – about 100 of them – for the kids.”

As the entertainment continues, everyone wonders what BJ the Clown will pull next out of his really big Christmas stocking.

Unlike well-meaning organizations that simply thrust miscellaneous gifts to the hands of children, Long said, each of the gift packages at this party are created to meet the youngster’s needs. “Each gift is child-specific; their package contains things that the child has said they want and/or need.

“These students sometimes come in wearing no shoes when they go to school,” Long continued. “This year each child will receive a pair of shoes that they have wished for, in their size.  And yes, they each do get a toy!”

Apparently taking her responsibility seriously, Kayleigh helps Sheriff Dan Staton lead the “Honorary Sheriff’s Deputy Oath”.

Although weak from laughter and cheering, the youthful audience quieted and paid polite attention when Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton stepped up to the podium, ready to administer the “Honorary Sheriff’s Deputy Oath”.

Holding up a right hand, each of the kids dutifully repeated the phrases spoke by Sheriff Staton, including … “To be the best kid I can be, do all my homework – to make green my favorite color.”

These two girls look intently at their plate – their lunch is made up of favorite kid foods, including bite-size fruit, and pizza.

As the kids left their tables, and formed a line for a lunch that included vegetables, fruit, pizza, soft drinks and a cookie, Staton talked with East Portland News. “We look forward to celebrating this time of year with these children. The staff here loves these kids like I do.”

The Sheriff added that he hopes the children will leave the event with a “sense of warmth and a sense of family to make them feel good about the Holidays.”

Calling out a hearty “Ho, ho, ho”, Santa Claus makes way into the party room.

The school had originally expected to bring about 80 students, but ended taking nearly 100 kids to the party, said Principal Cheryl Bickle – and also the second through fifth grade teacher.

“The children learn a lot about the expectations of their behavior,” Bickle said. “They earn the right to attend this party; they learn about appreciation. Christmas is typically not a very happy time for these kids. But this is a wonderful party for them.”

She was once again surprised and delighted when she walked into the room, Bickle commented.

“Every single year, they change the look of the room. I thought it just looked glorious today; it’s so well decorated. It’s beautiful, like something you’d see in a movie.

“I think the kids will remember this all of their lives,” Bickle smiled. “We really appreciate everything the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has done for us throughout the years. They have been really wonderful friends of the school and of our students.”

After dining, some of the youngsters looked around the room. One pointed out, “It’s too bad there’s no chimney here. It would be fun if Santa would come and visit.”

Abbegail smiles for her photo with Santa in his sleigh.

But – moments later, the jingle of sleigh bells and a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho” reached the kids’ ears from the hallway, as Santa Claus found his way into the room, and strode over to his sleigh.

When they sat down with Santa, each of the students each got an instant photo (a Polaroid, not a mug shot!) showing them visiting with St. Nick, after which each was presented a custom-assembled gift package.

If big, ear-to-ear smiles produced electricity, their positive energy could have powered the jail for a day.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office thanks the following for their support of this year’s Community Transitional School party:

BJ the Clown
Crowd Management Services
Izzy’s Pizza Restaurant/Gateway
Jack Dellert/Portland Trail Blazers
Keefe Group
Keizer Elks Club
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judges
Multnomah County Corrections Deputy Association
Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff’s Association
Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Management Association, Local 88
Washburn family
Wilson High School Leadership Group

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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